Iguanas are exotic animals that look like the perfect choice for anyone looking for a small, dinosaur-like reptile — but do iguanas make good pets? While it may seem tiny while you’re buying it, an iguana pet requires extensive care and special housing conditions once it grows up. Here’s what you need to know.
Keeping a Pet Iguana
Pet iguanas aren’t easy animals to care for. Despite their friendly, dragon-like appearance during their youth, iguanas can grow up to be about 1.5 meters long and weigh over 15 pounds. Plus, they are challenging pets to keep — especially if you aren't an experienced reptile keeper.
Most people buy a pet iguana when it’s young, without knowing that it will grow to be a massive animal that requires as much care as a dog. Usually, this results in captive iguanas dying at an early age due to the lack of proper care or aggressive adults that are potentially dangerous to keep.
Iguanas are also considered invasive in many states, which adds another layer of difficulty to getting a pet iguana. The requirements for keeping a pet iguana vary between jurisdictions, so you may need a permit to get one. Check your local laws to see if keeping an iguana pet in your state is legal.
If you're still considering getting a pet iguana or already have one at home, learn the basic iguana care tips. Remember that they’re complicated animals, so you should always be on the lookout for new information regarding how to care for an iguana.
Iguana temperature and housing: Keeping an iguana requires a lot of space in your house. Experts recommend a cage that's twice the length of the animal. Because iguanas can grow up to be almost 1.5 meters, a proper cage could take up nearly an entire room.
The cage should be made from a smooth material to prevent the iguana from getting hurt. It should also have good ventilation and be covered with an appropriate substrate. Preparing a proper iguana cage can cost you a lot of money and work.
Temperature-wise, iguanas, like some other reptiles, need to be provided with a focal hotspot in their cages that should reach approximately 36.5° Celsius (approx 98 degrees F). You can achieve this with powerful overhead lights and other specialized equipment. Strong UV (ultraviolet radiation) sources may also be required. These animals are susceptible to temperature, so it's important that you check their conditions daily.
Iguana diet: Iguanas are mostly herbivore animals, meaning they don't usually eat other animals. In nature, they are used to eating leaves, vegetables, and fruits — although they might also occasionally eat insects and small animals.
The usual iguana pet diet consists of dark green leafy vegetables mixed with other vegetables like beans, squash, and potatoes. Iguana treats usually consist of fruits, bread, and the occasional animal-based food. However, feeding an iguana isn’t only a matter of what you buy — you’ll also have to ensure that each meal contains enough nutritional value. If you let your iguana choose what it eats, it will probably pick the most palatable foods instead of the most nutritious ones.
Iguana lifespan: The lifespan of iguanas varies greatly depending on whether they are wild animals or captives. A pet iguana will usually live between 15 to 20 years, but in nature, these animals don't usually live past eight years. As such, it's essential to keep in mind that iguanas are a long-term commitment.
Iguana personality: Iguanas are complex animals — and their personalities are no exception to this. Different iguanas can have vastly different personalities, which may temporarily change depending on the season, captivity conditions, and hormonal fluctuations.
It's also important to remember that iguanas may be friendly during their youth, but they can change drastically once they grow up. Furthermore, iguanas don't usually get along with other iguanas. Keeping two of them can lead to constant fighting and stress on the animals.
Wild-caught vs. cultivated iguanas: Unlike most other pets, iguanas don’t differ much based on whether they’re wild-caught or cultivated. Instead, experts point out that the health of iguanas will be mostly determined by how you take care of them.
However, some experienced iguana keepers recommend getting wild-caught iguanas over cultivated ones. They argue that “farmed” iguanas go through dire conditions during birth and transport. Furthermore, these reptiles may also be badly kept at the pet store.
Is Keeping a Pet Iguana Dangerous?
As already mentioned, iguanas are inappropriate pets for most people. Unfortunately, many iguana keepers don't realize that owning this animal can be potentially dangerous for humans and the iguana itself. Here are some of the dangers of pet iguanas.
Salmonella and allergies: Most people don't know that you can get salmonella from touching and being near iguanas. This is especially dangerous if you have children living in the same house as the iguana.
Some people are also allergic to reptiles, including iguanas. This can cause symptoms like asthma attacks, eye irritation, and rashes. Yet, because iguanas aren’t usually near people, you may not know that you are allergic to reptiles until you buy one.
Aggressiveness: Iguanas are big animals that can easily hurt you if they turn aggressive. While many keepers feel confident that this will never happen, these reptiles can become aggressive under many different circumstances. For example, children poking at an iguana can easily trigger a violent reaction from the animal.
Iguana diseases: Among the dangers that affect the kept iguana include vulnerability to multiple diseases. Care-related mistakes could lead to thermal burns, dehydration, and parasites. Most captive iguanas die due to improper husbandry issues, so make sure you are well-informed before taking an iguana into your home.
Spiders and scorpions: Even experienced iguana keepers may not know that spiders and scorpions can seriously affect these reptiles. Spider and scorpion stings can trigger severe allergic reactions in iguanas, leading to fatal conditions.